Mason Williams – ‘Five Albums On Two Discs’ (2022)

Uncategorized October 3, 2022

Mason Williams – ‘Five Albums On Two Discs’ (2022)

Born August 24, 1938 in Abiline, Texas, Mason Williams is an American classical guitarist, composer, singer and writer best known for his 1968 instrumental ‘Classical Gas’ as well as a writer for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour and Saturday Night Live.

In 1969 ‘Classical Gas’ won 3 Grammy Awards when released as a single from ‘The Mason Williams Phonograph Record’ which was issued in 1968. The Grammys were for “Best Instrumental Composition”, “Best Contemporary-Pop Performance, Instrumental” and “Best Instrumental Arrangement”, with Mike Post as arranger. The song sold over a million copies earning Williams a gold disc. He received two more Grammy nominations for “Best Album Cover Design” for his 1970 and 1971 LP s, ‘Handmade’ and ‘Sharepickers’.

‘Classical Gas’ was composed and performed by Williams with instrumental backing of The Wrecking Crew. He was the head writer for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour at the time of its release and premiered the composition on the show. After the tune reached the Top 10, Williams asked an experimental filmmaker named Dan McLaughlin to adjust a student video montage that he had created of classical art works using Beethoven’s ‘5th Symphony’ and edit it in time to ‘Classical Gas’ using the visual effect now known as kinestasis. The work ‘3000 Years Of Art’ premiered in 1968 on an episode of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. The song peaked at #2 for 2 weeks in August 1968, behind ‘Hello, I Love You’ by The Doors. On the US Easy Listening chart, it went to #1 for 3 weeks. Williams re-recorded ‘Classical Gas’ as a solo guitar piece for his 1970 album ‘Handmade’. This version was used in the 1999 feature film ‘The Study Of Us’, directed by Rob Reiner, starring Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer. In 1998, Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI) awarded Williams a special Citation of Achievement. ‘Classical Gas’ has logged over five million broadcast performances to become BMI’s all-time number-one instrumental for radio airplay.

Beat Goes On (BGO) Records, UK, has gathered Williams’ five Warner Brothers albums issued between 1968 and 1971 on the new ‘Five Albums On Two Discs’ collection. Williams’ major label debut ‘The Mason Williams Phonograph Record’ released in February 1968, with ‘Classical Gas’ c/w another Williams original ‘Long Time Blues’ issued as the long player’s sole, incredibly successful single. The album featured support from several members of renowned Los Angeles session musicians The Wrecking Crew, namely guitarists Al Casey and James Burton, electric bassist Larry Knechtel, and drummer Jim Gordon, with Williams contributing guitar, twelve-string guitar and banjo and Mike Post handling the long player’s arrangements. November 1968 marked the appearance of Williams’ follow-up LP ‘The Mason Williams Ear Show’. The album contained three singles, ‘Saturday Night At The World’ c/w ‘One Minute Commercial’, ‘Love Are Wine’ c/w ‘Generatah-Oscittatah’ and the similarly humorously titled ‘Cinderella-Rockefella’ using the same b-side. Sadly, none of the singles, like the albums they were drawn from charted.despite contributions from guitarists Al Casey, Ray Pohlman and Michael Deasy, electric bassist Larry Knechtel and drummer Hal Blaine of The Wrecking Crew. Williams’ third Warner Brothers album ‘Music By Mason Williams’ hit stores in March 1969 supported by two singles, an inspired adaptation and arrangement of ‘Greensleves’ c/w ‘$13 Stella’, the b-side taken from ‘The Mason Williams Ear Show’ and ‘A Major Thang’ c/w a cover of Patty Ingles’ ‘A Gift Of Song’. The singles failed to chart although the LP did hit #27 in Canada. Williams was again aided by members of The Wrecking Crew with Lyle Ritz and Ray Pohlman on electric bass, Hal Blaine behind the drum kit, Al Casey, James Burton and Michael Deasy appearing on guitar, Larry Knechtel adding piano and special guest contributions from John Hartford on fiddle and banjo and Tommy Smothers playing harmonica on ‘The Brother’s Theme. Williams’ fourth WB album ‘Handmade’ appeared in March 1970 accompanied by two singles, the first, with ‘Jose’s Piece’ on the a-side, was paired with two b-sides, Williams’ ‘The Exciting Accident’ on the bottom side of one version, while a cover of Tim Hardin’s ‘Find A Reason To Believe’ was used on the second. The album’s second single was the re-recording of ‘Classical Gas’ used in ‘The Story Of Us’ c/w ‘Greensleeves’, previously issued as an a-side to accompany ‘Music By Mason Williams’. The LP, like its predecessors failed to dent the US charts, Williams this time supported by Rick Cunha on 2nd guitar, Pat Smith on bass, Bill Cunningham on dobro, Bhen Lanzarone on piano and Mike Cannon on drums. Williams’ final Warner Brothers album ‘Sharepickers’ was released in October 1971 with only one single supporting it, a coupling of a-side ‘Train Ride In G’ and b-side ‘Here I Am Again’, the 45 again failing to chart despite support from The Wrecking Crew members Al Casey contributing guitar, Larry Knechtel appearing on bass and Hal Blaine on drums, supplemented by percussionist Milt Holland and guitarist Rick Cunha. Following the LP’s lack of commercial success Williams took an extended leave from the music industry, concentrating on his writing career, before reappearing with a series of smaller label releases. However, Williams’ musical legacy from his halcyon days at Warner Brothers is most impressive indeed, with the five albums reviewed here serving as proof positive.

The discs of ‘Five Albums On Two Discs’ come in a slimline jewel case with a cardboard slipcase. The set is accompanied by a full color booklet with full track annotations, photos and an extensive essay while the sound has been remastered in high definition. This set will appeal to classical guitar as well as 1960s and 1970s pop music fans and comes highly recommended.

Kevin Rathert

Mason Williams – ‘Five Albums On Two Discs’ (BGO Records, 2022)

  1. Josef Kloiber says:

    Thank you Kevin for this unknown singer songwriter. I will order right away.

  2. Kevin Rathert says:

    Josef, you aren’t familiar with ‘Classical Gas’? I’m surprised. It was a huge hit in the US, a rare time that an instrumental did so well. I have no doubt you’ll enjoy Mason Williams and BGO did a great job on this one. Thanks for the comment. Maybe others don’t know of this great guitarist?

  3. Josef Kloiber says:

    I forgot a cd have of him the 1968 Phonograph Records. But as i said i will now order this double.

  4. Kevin says:

    Very good. Enjoy!

  5. Kevin Rathert says:

    Josef, didn’t see your comment until now. There are four more albums in this set. I have no doubt you’ll enjoy the set and the price is definitely right.

  6. Josef Kloiber says:

    I know – i will order them too (next days) and i can exchange my simple one with someone.

  7. Josef Kloiber says:

    Some GREAT (!!!) Californian bands:
    Countr Joe & the Fish 1+2, Hot Knives, Sapphire Trinkers, Crystal Syphone, Devils Kitchen, Day Blindness, Tripsichord Music Box, Moby Grape, Sagittarius, Millenium, Gale Garnett & the Gentle Reign, Strawberry Alarm Clock, Uther Pendragon, Colours, Seeds, Morgen (St.Stephen), Hardwater….

  8. Josef Kloiber says:

    Kevin, i have two questions:
    Will be released on Nov. 25. on Ch. Red Rec. Silverhead 6 cd & Mighty Lemon Drops 5 cd box. Do you know the bands better and are they recommendable ? Thanks

  9. Josef Kloiber says:

    I’m listening to The Bachdenkel box. Fine band.

  10. Kevin Rathert says:

    Josef, not sure about Silverhead or Mighty Lemon Drops. Silverhead is glam rock which is not big with me. Mighty Lemon Drops are reminiscent of Echo And The Bunnymen so more to my liking but haven’t heard a lot of them. I doubt I pick either up as Cactus, Merrell Fankhauser and Hard Meat all have box sets due out late this month and I have them on mp3 with pdf’s of the booklets, all sound and look great, but that will keep me busy, plus Harry Chapin’s Elektra albums is on the way and I am working my way through the 17 disc Harry Nilsson ‘RCA Albums Collection’ as well as dealing with some family health issues so probably won’t get to Silverhead or Mighty Lemon Drops at least for now. Glad you’re enjoying Bachdenkel. I hope to lend an ear, but only have so many hours in a day and right now life is keeping me busy.

  11. Stuart Robertson says:

    The debut Mason Williams album”The Mason Williams Phonograph Record”reminds me of early Harry Nilsson,in particular,his first 2 albums”Pandemonium Shadow Show”and “Aerial Ballet”,it has that quirky swinging 60s pop vibe to it,and a fabulous period production,with a wink given to psychedelia so prevalent in 68.I just adore this album,and to me it does fit nicely in between those Harry Nilsson albums i mention,which i also enjoy much more than anything Nilsson did after them.

    Also another artist i hear,is Pete Atkin,and the lyricist Clive James,Pete Atkin early couple of albums sound influenced by what Mason Williams was doing and releasing,the albums “Beware Of The Beautiful Stranger” (70)and the pre album demos from 68 and 69 and the album”Driving Through Mythical America”(71) sound like the type of music Mason Williams was recording after his splenid 68 debut,with his following 4 albums,as both Pete Atkin and Mason Williams have a at times jaunty americana,folky,country vibe going for them,but of course Mason Williams had 5 albums out by the time Pete Atkin got “Driving Through Mythical America”out.Though Mason Williams does have some humorous,and dare i say it,novelty sounding songs throughout those 4 albums,which to my ears have aged badly.

    His debut”Phonograph Record”is different to what followed in my opinion,as it has a definite late 60s swinging pop sound and major production,with a nod to trippier headier times,but like many other artists,ventured into more americana country and folkier territory post psychedelia,back to basics you could call it,and he was to follow this mix with the inclusion of orchestration on his 4 albums up to “Sharepickers”(71),unfortunately i found the following 4 albums The Mason Williams Ear Show(68),Music(69),Handmade(70) and Sharepickers(71) a bit mixed,but “Ear Show”still carries some of that 60s period pop vibe,but with the addition of country and folky vibes.
    In all this BGO package is definitely worth getting for those 60s music enthusiasts treading into little known waters,as i knew nothing of Mason Williams till i come across this release,and spun it at home,and was pleasantly surprised at the quality of music on offer,in particular that 68 debut”Phonograph Record”my favourite out off the 5 albums on offer on this very good release,and it hits home how easy todays artists have it when you realise Mason Williams released 5 albums in the space of 3 years,in todays market,most bands have 2 albums out in 5 years.

    One complaint,BGO have cocked up with a horrible gap in track 1″Overture”,maybe a mistake in mastering the album,or possibly a problem with original sources used,but it’s so obvious,it makes me wonder why nooone at BGO noticed this glaring mistake,as Overture before it plays out into All The Time,a total loss of sound occurs,not even lasting 2 seconds,but its so obvious,and is annoying,thats the only issue i have,as BGO usually do issue top product,and i’ve never come across this before on any of their cds.

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